Can Ugly Packaging Discourage Smokers?
One of the great challenges of being a physician is knowing when to advise, and when to stay quiet. I’ve discussed issues of privacy and propriety in the space before, including this recent post about patient records. Sometimes certain habits can be hard to shake – even harder to bring up.
Smoking remains a source of considerable concern among otolaryngologists. I’ve posted a few times recently about how we’re learning more and more about tobacco, including that it may be deadlier than HIV, and new evidence that it’s never too late to quit.
But this recent article caught my eye. In it, branding and merchandising professionals imagine a world in which tobacco products came in plainer packaging. Universally, they agreed it could discourage many thousands of smoking deaths a year:
Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the University of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit, who led the study, said: “Currently, approximately 10 million adults in Britain smoke. A one percentage point decline – from 21% of the population to 20% – would equate to 500,000 people who will not suffer the health effects of smoking.”
More impressively, they believe that generic packaging would reduce the percentage of children trying smoking by three percentage points (on average) two years after plain packaging is introduced.
Granted this is mere speculation, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable. We already know that improving packaging can increase sales: Couldn’t toning it down plausibly have the reverse effect?
Doctors can only do so much to underscore the health risks of smoking to a population that has long since become inured to this kind of advice. Is it possible that one answer would be to reduce demand through the power of merchandising instead?